U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
BACKGROUND NOTES: SURINAME
PUBLISHED BY THE BUREAU OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
NOVEMBER 1994

Official Name:  Republic of Suriname

PROFILE

Geography
Area:  163,265 sq. km. (63,037 sq. mi.); slightly larger than Georgia.
Cities:  Capital--Paramaribo (pop. 180,000).  Other towns--Nieuw 
Nickerie, Moengo.
Terrain:  Varies from coastal swamps to savanna to hills.
Climate:  Tropical.

People
Nationality:  Noun--Surinamer(s).  Adjective--Surinamese.
Population (1992):  438,000.
Annual growth rate (1992):   1%.
Ethnic groups:  Hindustani (East Indian) 37%, Creole 31%, Javanese 15%, 
Bush Negro 10%, Amerindians 3%, Chinese 1.7% (percentages date from 1972 
census, the last in which ethnicity data was collected).
Religions:  Hindu, Muslim, Roman Catholic, Dutch Reformed, Moravian and 
several other Christian groups, Jewish, Baha'i.
Languages:  Dutch (official), English, Sranan Tongo (Creole language), 
Hindustani, Javanese.
Education:  Compulsory--ages 6-12. Literacy--90%.
Health:  Infant mortality rate (1991)--38/1,000.  Life expectancy 
(1991)--68.2 years.
Work Force (100,000):  Government--49%.  Private sector--35%.  
Parastatal companies--16%.

Government
Type:   Constitutional democracy.
Constitution:   September 1987.
Independence:  November 25, 1975.
Branches:  Executive--president, vice president, Council of Ministers.  
Legislative--elected 51-member National Assembly made up of 
representatives of political parties.  Judicial--Court of Justice.
Administrative subdivisions:  10 districts.
Political Parties:  Ruling Coalition--The New Front Coalition (NFC):  
National Party of Suriname (NPS), Indonesian Peasant's Party (KPTI), 
Suriname Labor Party (SPA), and Progressive Reform Party (VHP).  Other 
parties in National Assembly--Alternative Forum (AF), Reformed 
Progressive, Party for Brotherhood and Unity in Politics (HPP), 
Pendawalima, Independent Progressive Group (BEP), New Democratic Party 
(NDP), Democratic Party (DP).
Suffrage:  Universal at 18.

Economy (1992)
GDP:  $545 million.
Annual growth rate:  -2.4%.
Per capita GDP:  $1,200.
Natural resources:   Bauxite, gold, iron ore, and other minerals; 
forests; hydroelectric potential; fish and shrimp.
Agriculture:   Products--rice, palm oil, bananas, timber, and citrus 
fruits.
Industry:   Types--aluminum, alumina, processed food, lumber, bricks, 
tiles, cigarettes, and glass.
Trade:  Exports--$105 million:   bauxite, alumina, aluminum, wood and 
wood products, rice, bananas, and shrimp.  Major markets--U.S., 
Netherlands, EU, and other European countries.  Imports--$105 million:  
capital equipment, petroleum, iron and steel products, agricultural 
products, and consumer goods.  Major suppliers--U.S., Netherlands, EU, 
Brazil, Caribbean countries.
Exchange rate:  400 guilders=U.S. $1.


PEOPLE

Most Surinamers live in the narrow, northern coastal plain.  The 
population is one of the most ethnically varied in the world.  Each 
ethnic group preserves its own culture, and many other institutions, 
including political parties, tend to follow ethnic lines.  Informal 
relationships vary--the upper classes of all ethnic groups mix freely; 
outside of the elite, social relations tend to remain within ethnic 
groupings.  All groups may be found in the schools and workplace.


HISTORY

Arawak and Carib tribes lived in the region before Columbus sighted the 
coast in 1498.  Although Spain officially claimed the area in 1593, the 
Portuguese and Spanish explorers of the 16th century gave the area 
little attention:  Gold had not yet been discovered there, and 
transportation was difficult.  Dutch settlement began in 1616 at the 
mouths of several rivers between present-day Georgetown, Guyana, and 
Cayenne, French Guiana.

Suriname became a Dutch colony in 1667.  The new colony--Dutch Guiana--
did not thrive.  Historians cite several reasons for this, including 
Holland's preoccupation with its more extensive (and profitable) East 
Indian territories, violent conflict between whites and native tribes, 
and frequent uprisings by the slave population, which was often treated 
with extraordinary cruelty.  Barely, if at all, assimilated into Western 
society, many of the slaves fled to the interior, where they resumed a 
West African culture and established the five major Bush Negro tribes in 
existence today:  the Djuka, Saramaccaner, Matuwari, Paramaccaner, and 
Quinti.

Plantation farming steadily declined in importance as labor costs rose.  
Rice, bananas, and citrus fruits replaced the traditional crops of 
sugar, coffee, and cocoa.  Exports of gold rose notably, however, 
beginning in 1900.  The Dutch Government gave little financial support 
to the colony.

Suriname's economy was transformed in the years following World War I, 
when an American firm (Alcoa) began exploiting bauxite deposits in East 
Suriname.  Bauxite processing and then alumina production began in 1941.  
This was of considerable importance during World War II, when over 75% 
of U.S. bauxite imports came from Suriname.  The U.S. stationed troops 
there during the war.

Beginning in 1951, Suriname began to acquire an increasing measure of 
autonomy from the Netherlands.  On December 15, 1954, Suriname became an 
autonomous part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and gained 
independence on November 25, 1975.

Most of Suriname's political parties took shape during the autonomy 
period and were overwhelmingly based on ethnicity.  For example, the 
Nationale Partij Suriname (NPS) found its support among the Creoles, the 
Veruitstrevended Hervormd Partij (VHP) gained its backers from the 
Hindustani population, and the Indonesian Peasant's Party (or KTPI in 
Javanese) was based upon the Javanese group.  Other, smaller parties 
found limited support by appealing to the voters on a more strictly 
ideological or pro-independence line; the Partij Nationalistische 
Republiek (PNR) was among the most important.  Its members pressed most 
strongly for independence and for the introduction of leftist political 
and economic measures.  Many former PNR members would go on to play a 
key role following the post-independence coup of February 1980.

Independence, "Revolution," And Democracy

Suriname was a working parliamentary democracy in the years immediately 
following independence, when Henk Arron became the first Prime Minister 
and was reelected in 1977.  On February 25, 1980, the elected government 
was overthrown by 16 noncommissioned officers.  The military-dominated 
government then suspended the constitution, dissolved the legislature in 
August, and formed a regime which ruled by decree.  Although a civilian 
filled the post of president, a military man, Desi Bouterse, actually 
ruled the country.

Throughout 1982, pressure grew for a return to civilian rule.  To end 
this threat, the military ordered drastic action.  Early in December 
1982, the military authorities arrested and killed 15 prominent 
opposition leaders, including journalists, lawyers, and trade union 
leaders.

Following the murders, the United States and the Netherlands suspended 
all economic and military cooperation with the Bouterse regime, which 
increasingly began to follow an erratic but generally leftist-oriented 
political course.  Economic decline rapidly set in after the suspension 
of economic aid from the Netherlands.  The regime also restricted the 
press and limited the rights of its citizens.

The continued economic decline brought pressure for change.  During the 
1984-87 period, the regime attempted to end the crisis through a 
succession of nominally civilian-led cabinets.  Many figures in the 
government came from the traditional political parties which had, in 
effect, been shoved aside during the coup.  The military eventually 
agreed to free elections in 1987, a new constitution, and a civilian 
government.  Ramsewak Shankar was elected President, and Henk Arron was 
elected Vice President.

Another pressure for change had erupted in July 1986, when the Maroon or 
Bush Negro insurgency, led by former soldier Ronnie Brunswijk, began 
attacking economic targets in the country's interior.  In response, the 
army ravaged villages and killed suspected Brunswijk supporters.  
Thousands of Bush Negroes fled to nearby French Guiana.  In an effort to 
end the bloodshed, the Surinamese Government negotiated a peace treaty, 
called the Kourou accord, with Brunswijk in 1989.  Commander Bouterse 
and other military leaders did not support this accord and blocked its 
implementation.

On December 24, 1990, military officers forced the resignations of the 
President and Vice President elected in 1987.  Military-selected 
replacements were hastily approved by the National Assembly on December 
29.  Faced with mounting pressure from the U.S. and other nations and 
international organizations, however, the government held new elections 
on May 25, 1991.  The New Front Coalition, comprised of the National 
Party of Suriname (NPS), the Progressive Reform Party (VHP), the 
Indonesian Peasant's Party (KTPI), and the Surinamese Labor Party (SPA), 
were able to win a majority.  The New Front Coalition and another pro-
democracy coalition, the Democratic Alternative '91 (which won 9 seats), 
also controlled more than the two-thirds majority in the National 
Assembly required to elect Suriname's next president.

On September 6, 1991, the People's Assembly, consisting of the National 
Assembly plus other elected representatives of districts and 
subdistricts, elected President Runaldo Ronald Venetiaan and Vice 
President Jules Ajodhia to five-year terms in office.  The government 
was able to effect a settlement to Suriname's domestic insurgency as a 
result of the August 1992 peace accord with Bush Negro and Amerindian 
insurgents.

In April 1993, Desi Bouterse was replaced as Commander of the Armed 
Forces by Arthy Gorre, a military officer committed to bringing the 
armed forces under the control of the democratically elected government.  
Despite these successes, public opinion polls conducted in August 1994 
indicated that the New Front Coalition was losing support, at least in 
part because of the weak performance of the economy.


GOVERNMENT

The Republic of Suriname is a constitutional democracy based on the 1987 
constitution.  The legislative branch of government consists of a 51-
member unicameral National Assembly, popularly elected for a five-year 
term.  The next election is in May 1996 for the entire Assembly.

The executive branch is headed by the president, who is elected by a 
two-thirds majority of the National Assembly for a five-year term.  If 
the National Assembly cannot get two-thirds of its members to vote for 
one candidate, a People's Assembly is formed from all assembly 
delegates, regional and municipal representatives of the population who 
have been elected by popular vote.  A simple majority of this group may 
also elect the president in lieu of the National Assembly.  A vice 
president, normally elected at the same time as the president, needs 
only a simple majority in the National Assembly to be elected for a 
five-year term.  As head of the government, the president has a 16-
minister cabinet that he appoints. There is no constitutional provision 
for removal or replacement of the president unless he resigns.  

A State Advisory Council of 14 members advises the president in the 
conduct of policy.  Eleven of the 14 seats are allotted by proportional 
representation of all political parties represented in the National 
Assembly.  The vice president chairs the council and three 
representatives of  workers and employers organizations hold the rest of 
the seats.  

The judiciary is headed by the Court of Justice (Supreme Court).  This 
court supervises the magistrate courts.  Members are appointed for life 
by the president in consultation with the National Assembly, the State 
Advisory Council and the National Order of Private Attorneys.

The republic is divided into 10 administrative districts headed by a 
district commissioner appointed by the president.  The commissioner is 
similar to the governor of a U.S. state but serves at the president's 
pleasure. 

National Security

Surinamese armed forces consist of the national army under the control 
of Commander Arthy Gorre and Defense Minister Siegfried Gilds and a much 
smaller civil police force which is responsible to the minister of 
justice.  The national armed forces comprise some 2,500 personnel, the 
majority of whom are deployed as light infantry security forces.  A 
small air force and navy/coast guard also exist.  The Netherlands has 
provided limited military assistance to the Surinamese armed forces 
since the election of a democratic government in 1991.  Suriname is 
pursuing regional military cooperation through bilateral agreements and 
exercises with Brazil, Venezuela, Guyana, French Guiana, Curacao, and 
the U.S.

Principal Government Officials
President--Runaldo Ronald Venetiaan
Vice President--Jules Ajodhia
Foreign Minister--Subhas Mungra
Ambassador to U.S. and OAS--Willem A. Udenhout
Ambassador to UN--Kriesnadath Nandoe 

Suriname maintains an embassy in the United States at 4301 Connecticut 
Ave, NW, Suite 108, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202-244-7488).  There is 
a consulate general at 7235 NW 19th St., Suite A, Miami, Fl 33136 (tel. 
305-593-2163).


ECONOMY

The backbone of Suriname's economy is the export of alumina and small 
amounts of aluminum produced from bauxite mined in the country.  Alumina 
and aluminum exports account for about 85% of Suriname's export 
earnings.  Suriname's bauxite deposits have been among the world's 
richest--although greater amounts of shale must be removed than at 
deposits in Guinea and Australia.

Mining sites at Moengo and Paranam are estimated to have bauxite 
reserves for another 10 to 15 years.  All bauxite mined in Suriname is 
brought via navigable rivers and the Atlantic to the Suriname Aluminum 
Company's (SURALCO) alumina refinery and aluminum smelter in Paranam.  
In 1984, SURALCO, a subsidiary of the Aluminum Company of America 
(ALCOA), entered into a joint venture with the Royal Dutch Shell-owned 
Billiton Company, which did not process the bauxite it mined.  Under 
this agreement, they share risks and profits.

Inexpensive power costs are Suriname's big advantage in the energy-
intensive alumina and aluminum business.  Alcoa built a $150-million dam 
for the production of hydroelectric energy at Afobaka (south of 
Brokopondo), which created a 1,550-square kilometer (600 sq. mi.) lake, 
one of the largest artificial lakes in the world.

Suriname also is an exporter of rice, shrimp, timber, bananas, fruits, 
and vegetables.  It formerly exported palm oil.  All of these exports 
declined in 1989, due to lack of competitiveness of Suriname's products 
and also to insurgencies in the interior, which effectively closed 
access to timber and to most palm oil plantations.  Deteriorating 
infrastructure and lack of spare parts are additional constraints 
worsened by a skewed exchange rate.

At independence, Suriname signed an agreement with the Netherlands 
providing for about $1.5 billion in development assistance grants and 
loans over a 10- to 15-year period.  Dutch assistance allocated to 
Suriname thus amounted to about $100 million per year.  Dutch 
transitional aid ended in February 1990.  To date, Suriname has had 
access to only a fraction of Dutch aid because of Dutch insistence that 
Suriname undertake structural economic reforms and produce specific 
plans acceptable to the Dutch for projects on which aid funds could be 
spent.

Despite the lack of Dutch balance-of-payments support, Suriname has been 
able to embark on development projects in the areas of petroleum 
production expansion and a mini-refinery project for Staatsolie, the 
state-owned oil company.  In addition, Suriname has attracted 
investments by international companies in the areas of gold exploration 
and exploitation (Golden Star Resources) as well as in the tropical 
hardwoods industry (MUSA, Berjaja).  Exploitation of the country's 
tropical forests has raised environmental concerns both in Suriname and 
abroad, however.

In the 1980s, as Suriname's economic situation deteriorated due to the 
cutoff of Dutch development aid, the government instituted a regime of 
stringent economic controls over prices, the exchange rate, imports, and 
exports.  The policy resulted in a reduction of activity in the 
officially controlled market.  Meanwhile, the tolerated black market 
grew considerably, at one point accounting for an estimated 85% of all 
imports.  The New Front Coalition began to move toward a comprehensive 
structural adjustment program (SAP) in 1991.

Progress has been slow, but the government has eliminated some licensing 
requirements and, in 1993, allowed currency to be exchanged on a 
legalized free market comprising banks and exchanges.  In July 1994, the 
government took another step toward economic adjustment by unifying the 
multiple exchange rates applicable in various sectors of the economy at 
the rate of 180 guilders per U.S. dollar, and resolved to phase out 
expensive government subsidies on gasoline and a number of consumer 
goods.  

The government's inability to bring its sizeable deficit under control, 
and its expansionary financing of the deficit through money creation, 
led to a rapid increase in inflation (to about 300% in 1993) and a 
dramatic fall in the parallel market value of the Surinamese guilder 
(from an official rate of 1.78 guilder per U.S. dollar in 1991 to 400 
guilders per U.S. dollar in November 1994).

Vestiges of the economic policies of the 1980s remain in the form of 
price controls and subsidies and the existence of numerous parastatal 
companies in nearly every economic sector.  By 1994, about half of the 
work force was still directly or indirectly on the government payroll.  


FOREIGN RELATIONS

Since gaining independence, Suriname has become a member of the United 
Nations, the Organization of American States, and the Non-Aligned 
Movement.  In 1994, Suriname began to participate in the Caribbean 
Community and Common Market (CARICOM) on political issues and became a 
member of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS); it is associated 
with the European Union through the Lome Convention.  Suriname 
participates in activities of both the Andean and Amazonian Pact 
countries and, reflecting its status as a major bauxite producer, is a 
member of the International Bauxite Association.  The country also 
belongs to the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLA), the Inter-
American Development Bank (IDB), the International Finance Corporation 
(IFC), the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

President Venetiaan's government is trying to raise Suriname's profile 
in the international community and especially within the region.  State 
visits to countries in and outside of the region have contributed to 
this effort, as have Suriname's recent charter membership in the ACS and 
associate membership in CARICOM on political issues.  Bilateral 
agreements with several of these countries, covering diverse areas of 
cooperation, have further underscored the government's determination to 
strengthen its regional ties.  The return to Suriname from French Guiana 
of about 8,000 refugees from the 1986-91 civil war between the military 
and domestic insurgents has improved relations with French authorities.  
Long-standing border disputes with Guyana and French Guiana remain 
unresolved but have not negatively affected relations with either 
country.  An earlier dispute with Brazil ended amicably after formal 
demarcation of the border.


U.S.-SURINAMESE RELATIONS

Since the re-establishment of a democratic government, the United States 
has maintained positive and mutually beneficial relations with Suriname 
based on the principles of democracy, respect for human rights, rule of 
law, and civilian authority over the military.  Cooperation with the 
Suriname Government in the area of anti-narcotics activities has 
increased, and Suriname's efforts to liberalize economic policy have 
created new possibilities for U.S. investments.  Suriname strongly 
backed efforts by the United States to implement UN Security Resolution 
940 designed to facilitate the departure of Haiti's de facto authorities 
from power. Suriname agreed to the construction of a safehaven for 
Haitian refugees. 

Principal U.S. Embassy Officials
Ambassador--Roger R. Gamble
Deputy Chief of Mission--Ruth M. Van Heuven
Defense Attache--Lt. Col. Leocadio Muniz, U.S. Army
Political Officer--Daniel F. Christiansen
Economic/Commercial Officer--Kathleen A. Morenski
Consular Officer--David Renz
Political Regional Affairs Officer--Robert V. Matthews

The U.S. embassy in Paramaribo is located at Dr. Sophie Redmondstraat 
129, P.O. Box 1821, Paramaribo, Suriname (tel. 472900, 476459; FAX 597-
410025).  

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